Sunday December 16, 2018
Home India Agatha Christ...

Agatha Christie cited native Indian plants as poison sources in her books

1
//
Republish
Reprint

Kolkata: Agatha Christie Queen of Crime not only used the quintessential Victorian-era poisons but also the examples of native Indian plants as sources for her poisons in her deadly murder-plots to kill off characters, British chemist and author Kathryn Harkup said.

In “A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie”, Harkup sheds light on how the author gained the know-how on the lethal compounds while working as a dispenser in Britain and weaved them into her brilliant novels.

“The most underrated aspect of Christie, in my opinion, is how many different poisons she used. There is an assumption that she just used arsenic, but she used over 30 different compounds to kill her characters,” Harkup told in an email interaction while in India to attend literary fests in Kolkata and New Delhi.

Dame Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. She has to her credit over 80 novels and short stories. Her 125th birthday was commemorated worldwide on September 15, 2015.

Christie’s considerable knowledge of chemistry and the nitty-gritties of poisons was amassed during her professional years in a pharmacy during both World Wars.

“I have looked into the Ayurveda system of medicine during my research, as Christie used examples of native Indian plants as sources for her poisons.

“Christie would have used atropine, strychnine, and aconitine in the preparations she made as an apothecaries assistant. All of these compounds can be obtained from plants that are native to India. I looked at the example of the use of these compounds in the Ayurveda system, particularly atropine,” Harkup, whose visit was sponsored by the British Council, revealed.

For example, in “4:50 from Paddington”, aconitine (monkshood/aconitum napellus) is the central agent, strychnine (strychnos nux vomica) in “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” and atropine (datura) in “The Cretan Bull” or “Caribbean Mystery”, said Harkup.

While delving deep into the scientific basis of the use of poisons by Christie, Harkup was amazed by the phenomenal effort the author had put into clear her apothecaries exams.

“The most interesting thing I learned was how much studying she had done for her apothecaries exams. She had to learn theoretical and practical chemistry as well as about pharmacy and how to make up prescriptions. She even practiced the Marsh Test (the test for arsenic) in preparation for her exams which surprised me.”

In fact, the author’s most treasured review was from The Pharmaceutical Journal where they praised her book “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” for its scientific accuracy, even though women were not seen as great leaders in science in Christie’s day, according to Harkup.

She singles out thallium (featured in “The Pale Horse”) and eserine (featured in “Curtain”) as major evidence of Christie’s breadth of knowledge.

“Thallium, which was so little known about at the time she was writing that doctors consulted her novel for accurate descriptions of poisoning symptoms. Eserine was a drug I had never heard of until I read Christie. Eserine has a fascinating history from its discovery in West Africa to its use in medicine today,” Harkup explained.

Respected for her knowledge and accuracy, Christie was also ahead of her time in some instances.

“She used ricin to kill three people in the short story “The House of Lurking Death”. Christie was writing almost 50 years before anyone had been murdered using this poison (as far as we know). Unfortunately, because there were no other cases that she could draw on, some of the science is not very accurate.

“Anyone trying to mimic Christie would not be a very successful murderer if they used the method in this story,” Harkup pointed out.

Published by Bloomsbury, “A is for Arsenic” also looks at why certain chemicals kill, how they interact with the body, and the feasibility of obtaining, administering, and detecting these poisons, both when Christie was writing and today.

“I hope the book can be seen as not just a science book but also about history and social aspects of science as well as Agatha Christie and her work,” added Harkup whose next book is on the science behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.(IANS)(image:electricliterature)

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 NewsGram

  • Raj

    The writer and the editors, clearly, have no idea what is a million or a billion. Review the story, and correct it, please.

Next Story

10 Indian Author’s Books Selected for JCB Prize for Literature

Of the 10 novels, the jury will shortlist five, which will be announced on October 3. The five shortlisted writers receive Rs 1 lakh each.

0
literature
10 novels of 'enormous diversity' vying for India's richest book prize.

Ten outstanding Indian novels in English along with translations from Indian languages by veterans as well as debut authors were longlisted on Wednesday for the Rs 25 lakh JCB Prize for Literature, with its literary director highlighting “enormous diversity” in the submissions.

The longlist features two novels in translation: “Poonachi or The Story of a Black Goat”, originally written in Tamil by Perumal Murugan and Malayalam novel “Jasmine Days” by Benny Daniel; two novels by debut women writers: “Latitudes of Longing” by Shubhangi Swarup and “Empire” by Devi Yesodharan; and two novels by authors previously nominated for the Man Booker Prize: “All The Lives We Never Lived” by Anuradha Roy and “The Book of Chocolate Saints” by Jeet Thayil.

They are joined by veteran writers Nayantara Sahgal and Kiran Nagarkar, whose “When The Moon Shines by Day” and “Jasoda” released to prominence and reflected the burden of society in 2017.

While the entry of Amitabha Bagchi’s “Half the Night is Gone” that explores the inner and outer lives of the men in two families, was almost expected, Chandrahas Choudhury’s “Clouds” was the surprise novel in the longlist.

Literature
Excerpt from Amitabha Bagchi’s “Above Average”

Entries for the inaugural edition of the prize, an initiative of the earthmoving and construction equipment company JCB India Ltd, came from writers in 19 states and 22 per cent of them were translations.

“The most striking thing about the entries we received is their enormous diversity. We had entries from 17 states and eight languages. The oldest author was nearly seven decades older than the youngest. There were books about ancient Indian history and mythology, books about ecological disasters, books about religious strife and the situation of women. All in all, it was a very exciting set of books, which represents the full set of possibilities of the novel,” Rana Dasgupta, Literary Director of the prize told IANS.

The British Indian novelist and essayist further noted that many of the translations were from Malayalam and Kannada. He said that it is no longer possible to “generalise” as novels in Indian languages are “as cosmopolitan as any other”.

“Writers in these languages set their novels in locations all across the world, and they have a great contemporaneity of form, character and language. In future years, translated fiction will make up a much greater share of entries to the Prize,” Dasgupta maintained.

Scholar Rohan Murthy, writers Priyamvada Natarajan and Vivek Shanbhag, and author-translator Arshia Sattar comprise the jury with film director Deepa Mehta chairing the panel.

Literature
Rana Dasgupta, is himself a celebrated author. Flickr

Of the 10 novels, the jury will shortlist five, which will be announced on October 3. The five shortlisted writers receive Rs 1 lakh each.

The final award will be presented to the writer of the winning novel on October 27. If the winning work is a translation, the translator will be awarded an additional Rs 5 lakh.

The winning novelist will be awarded Rs 25 lakh, the highest for a prize of its kind in India.

Ten outstanding Indian novels in English along with translations from Indian languages by veterans as well as debut authors were longlisted on Wednesday for the Rs 25 lakh JCB Prize for Literature, with its literary director highlighting “enormous diversity” in the submissions.

The longlist features two novels in translation: “Poonachi or The Story of a Black Goat”, originally written in Tamil by Perumal Murugan and Malayalam novel “Jasmine Days” by Benny Daniel; two novels by debut women writers: “Latitudes of Longing” by Shubhangi Swarup and “Empire” by Devi Yesodharan; and two novels by authors previously nominated for the Man Booker Prize: “All The Lives We Never Lived” by Anuradha Roy and “The Book of Chocolate Saints” by Jeet Thayil.

They are joined by veteran writers Nayantara Sahgal and Kiran Nagarkar, whose “When The Moon Shines by Day” and “Jasoda” released to prominence and reflected the burden of society in 2017.

Literature
Anuradha Roys’s ‘All The Lives We Never Lived’. Goodreads

While the entry of Amitabha Bagchi’s “Half the Night is Gone” that explores the inner and outer lives of the men in two families, was almost expected, Chandrahas Choudhury’s “Clouds” was the surprise novel in the longlist.

Entries for the inaugural edition of the prize, an initiative of the earthmoving and construction equipment company JCB India Ltd, came from writers in 19 states and 22 per cent of them were translations.

“The most striking thing about the entries we received is their enormous diversity. We had entries from 17 states and eight languages. The oldest author was nearly seven decades older than the youngest. There were books about ancient Indian history and mythology, books about ecological disasters, books about religious strife and the situation of women. All in all, it was a very exciting set of books, which represents the full set of possibilities of the novel,” Rana Dasgupta, Literary Director of the prize told IANS.

The British Indian novelist and essayist further noted that many of the translations were from Malayalam and Kannada. He said that it is no longer possible to “generalise” as novels in Indian languages are “as cosmopolitan as any other”.

“Writers in these languages set their novels in locations all across the world, and they have a great contemporaneity of form, character and language. In future years, translated fiction will make up a much greater share of entries to the Prize,” Dasgupta maintained.

literature
The final award will be presented to the writer of the winning novel on October 27. If the winning work is a translation, the translator will be awarded an additional Rs 5 lakh. Pixabay

Scholar Rohan Murthy, writers Priyamvada Natarajan and Vivek Shanbhag, and author-translator Arshia Sattar comprise the jury with film director Deepa Mehta chairing the panel.

Also Read: India Provides Good Future for Books Than Other Parts of The World

Of the 10 novels, the jury will shortlist five, which will be announced on October 3. The five shortlisted writers receive Rs 1 lakh each.

The final award will be presented to the writer of the winning novel on October 27. If the winning work is a translation, the translator will be awarded an additional Rs 5 lakh.

The winning novelist will be awarded Rs 25 lakh, the highest for a prize of its kind in India. (IANS)